Slowly,  they march
Bare feet on carpet of leaves
Lanterns, yellow pinpricks of light
Face whitened with nzu
Trembling lips betraying the resolute hardness in their eyes
Young chests, wrapped in red clothes, yet to feel the weight of breasts, slowly rising and falling with every breath.
Heads bald, shorn of hair.

Slowly, they march.

Alone, no guide.
Walk to the end of the path, they were told.
Branches caress bare arms, leaving traces of moisture, verdant tears.
They say nothing, silence enveloping them like cotton burial cloth.

The forest is silent.
Figures flit in the tall, tall trees.
Watching.
A cold finger strokes a scalp.
A flinch but nothing is said.
Omu tightly clamped between teeth.

Deeper they go.
Until it is the end of the path.
A tall tree in the middle of a clearing.
They kneel at the foot of an orji tree, hands grasping its hard bark

It comes down.
They hear the slithering first.
Rustling branches, breaking the silence like a thunder crack.
Long nails scratching on rough bark.
Descending.
Something wet falls on a bald head.
Then the smell.
Dead.
Rot.
Prime smell of virgin earth.
Eyes are tightly shut.
Fingers like twigs touch their heads.
A blessing.
One word: Umu m
My children.
Slowly, they rise.
Step back.
Mist gathers at their feet.
Out of the mists, things rise.
Shapes, forms.
Long limbed.
Long limbs encircling.
Each.
Pulling them to their spots.
Feet sink slowly into suddenly mushy earth.
Arms are pulled,  till they are stretched apart.
Like crosses.

Slowly, root tendrils burrow into feet,
Tearing into skin, sinking into bones.
Mouths open to scream
Yet, silence.

Silence.

Where stood girls
Now stand trees.

*****************
She lost her children
Madness drove her
To the dark Ohia
Every year, she calls to them.
Every year, they answer.

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